VERN STEFANIC: Hello. And welcome to this installment of AAPG's Energy
Insights podcast. I'm Vern Stefanic. And today I'm having a conversation with
Frank Wantland career coach and consultant, talking about things geoscientists
may need to know about surviving or even advancing their careers in today's
rapidly shifting oil-and-gas industry. Now some of you may remember Frank as a
former columnist for the AAPG Explorer, where he authored an ongoing series on
career possibilities and strategies, but that was then. This is now. And new
times bring new realities and new strategies. So let's talk about him. Frank,
welcome to Energy Insights.
FRANK WANTLAND: Thank you, Vernon. I'm glad to be here.
VERN STEFANIC: Still here, still going strong, still helping people, still
very active in dealing with today's industry and people who are trying to
figure out what in the world they should do with their careers-- how they can
make their career be more effective in their careers--
FRANK WANTLAND: Absolutely.
VERN STEFANIC: --especially in the oil-and-gas industry, which is where you
had your start, right?
FRANK WANTLAND: Exactly, yes. I came out of Rice and joined Cities Service,
the old Cities Service company, and became head of their geological research.
And that's where I really learned the whole issue about how do you manage
people smarter than you? I mean, in order to advance their careers, and launch
their careers, and keep them, I had to know them in depth. So that launched me
into the area of talking to people at great length, so that's one of the
foundations of this. OK?
VERN STEFANIC: OK. And so your specialty is helping people in career
development. Career development is kind of an interesting loaded word. To
different people, it might mean different things. When we say it, what do you
FRANK WANTLAND: OK, here's my take on career development-- career
development, people development, personal development. It's all this. It's all
the same thing. From my standpoint, when I talk about career development, I'm
talking about all the things that an individual does or as a company does, on
their behalf, to help them have the opportunity to add value to the company. I
mean, that's what they're paid to do. They're paid to add value. So everything
in career development should be focused toward how do I do that? So that when a
person goes in for a performance review, they may say, oh, I achieved my goals.
But their comeback is, well, OK, you achieved your goals, but how did you add
value to the company this year?
And that's the thing that they really ought to be aware of. How do I develop
myself, and learn, and grow, so I continuously add value? That's what makes me
relevant now and into the future.
VERN STEFANIC: Do you find that, in the people that you've talked to and the
groups that you've talked to-- is that a common challenge that people have
FRANK WANTLAND: Oh, absolutely.
VERN STEFANIC: Yeah, talk about some of that.
FRANK WANTLAND: I talk to people, and I hear people say, I don't really know
what drives me. And I don't know what drains me. I don't know really what's
expected here. I don't know. I don't know how to navigate this culture, you
know. I don't know who to trust. Who do I turn to? Who has my back?
And that really is-- to me, it's kind of discouraging to have that. Because
from my vantage and my experience, all those questions could be resolved by
conversation-- taking the time not only to talk to people but to listen. There
are people who say, Frank, you have a real gift for understanding people. No, I
listen, and that's really the only gift you have. And I'll talk about that some
more, but it's in that vein.
And so when we talk about value, that manifests itself as performance, so
all of our effort in career development is really to increase performance. And
then the question is how do you do that?
VERN STEFANIC: Yeah, right. Right. Which right now, I'm sure there's more
than a few of us who want to know a little bit more about that. But let me ask
you kind of a basic setup question in establishing these conversations of
value. Just in the general terms, is that the responsibility of those of us,
who are trying to advance our careers, or management to try to give that
opportunity to people to be able to develop?
FRANK WANTLAND: Absolutely. I think that there's many things, that people
don't do, that they could be doing on their own. I talk to a lot of people who
are in, what they would say, this isn't really the optimal environment for me.
I mean, really, my manager doesn't pay much attention to me. But that's no
excuse for not developing themselves and maybe just talking to each other,
because bottom line is the individual's responsibility to add value to that
company. When they stop adding value--
VERN STEFANIC: And that's something--
FRANK WANTLAND: --they're gone.
VERN STEFANIC: Yeah. I don't think today's curriculum takes much time to
work with people on the understanding that you are here to add value. What
we've all seen is that workers today in the oil-and-gas industry have tremendous
technical skills, right?
FRANK WANTLAND: Yeah.
VERN STEFANIC: They're just so far ahead of things, even just 10, 15 years
ago, what the geologist and geoscientists would have had.
FRANK WANTLAND: Yeah.
VERN STEFANIC: But this other-- this skill of realizing of how to add value.
Not just skills, but to add value--
FRANK WANTLAND: I'll tell you how that manifests itself. There are reports
that say that some 30% of what we call the creative class of people that deal
with symbols, and ideas, and numbers, and all that sort of thing-- 30% of them
in the industry today are disengaged. That is they're going through the
motions. They're not really excited about what they're doing. That's a
terrifying number to deal with, and we have the problem of trying to retain top
talent. And that, too, is something which, you know, you say, well, I'll get
five years from them. That's good enough. They go on, and that's in their
culture to do that.
Well, that's nonsense. That's nonsense. You want to keep people for longer
periods of times, so that when they mature, they really add value. So it's
retaining talent and increasing performance are just vital parts of the
organization, and it's the responsibility of both.
VERN STEFANIC: Right. So when somebody comes to you, and they say, as you
just said, well, I feel disenfranchised or disengaged from the company, what
would you tell them, right off the bat?
FRANK WANTLAND: I would ask them to take inventory of themselves. There are
three or four basic questions. What are your strengths? Not just your
strengths-- technical strengths. But what are your strengths of character?
Perseverance, and challenge, and drive, and all that sort of thing? What are
your strengths? What do you bring to the table?
How do you fit in? One of the biggest problems that I find in talking to
people in industry is that they're in a poor fit. Their talents aren't being
used to the max to meet the challenges that they have. They're out of sync with
the organization in that respect. What are your choices? One of the things that
we teach in my other life-- which is as a volunteer to help people get
re-engaged, you know, reemployed in the industry, 501C3, that deals with people
who've been laid off-- is you are where you are because of the choices you've
made. Have those choices been good, or bad, willy nilly, thoughtful or not-- we
don't teach people how to make good choices.
And that's a topic that I would go into deeper, but it's something that we
really dwell on with these people, because they have to make better choices,
going forward. And those choices have to be in sync with their core values and
their strengths. You know, ta-ta ta-ta, the whole package has to govern and
drive those choices. And then the question is who cares? You know, you've got
to have some people in the company that give a darn about you-- champions or,
you know, mentors. Who cares about how you succeed or not?
So if you say-- for starters, just take inventory. What are your strengths?
How do you feel like you fit in? What are your choices?
The worst thing is for a person to say I have no choice, because they have
just given their career over to someone else. They're no longer in charge of
their career. I have no choice, and you talk about disengagement-- that's when
people get disengaged. I have no hope, you know. And hope-- one of the things
that. One of the most interesting lines I've read from a psychologist named
Rollo May-- he said that depression for most people. I mean, not clinical
depression but depression for people like this that just don't see any way
forward, and they don't have any choices. Depression is the inability to
construct a future.
VERN STEFANIC: OK.
FRANK WANTLAND: Then that is really a bell ringer for people. So one of the
things that we do, that most outplacement people don't do in our group, is that
we talk about not just your future but three or four alternative futures
because things change. And it's better for you to have, what we call, two or
three scenarios. When I first took over as head of the Geologic Research Group,
I inherited a group of people, of course. And I was given the charge to-- the
Cities Service company was not exactly a high tech company.
We get no respect, you know. They want our money, but they don't care about
what we say about how to do things. So he said, Frank, I want you to be one of
the spearheads, one of the groups, that gets us technical respect. So if I had
that as my goal, then I had to make sure that everyone in my group was reaching
their absolute potential. They had to be really driven to do what they do. We
didn't have enough people to have someone just says, I can do it.
Well, we had one of those. We had a guy that we had hired-- that had been
hired. He was from a good Midwestern school-- got his PhD in a good Midwestern
school that was known for computer applications. What we call a computer
geologist that time-- someone to look at all the ways that a computer could
help in geological mapping and things like that. Pretty rudimentary stuff at
that time, but anyway-- and he was OK. But he wasn't performing at a high
And he came to me, and he said, Frank, we need to talk. And he said, I don't
feel comfortable in what I'm doing. And what we discovered was that, in his
background, he had another set of skills that he really preferred, but no one
had advertised for that. So he took this job in computer geology, saying, I can
do it. But it wasn't good enough. It wasn't satisfying him. It wasn't
satisfying us. So we said, OK, let's talk about that. And it was it was
sandstone pathology, and diagenesis, and sedimentary geochemistry, and that
whole field, which is another strong point of the school he came from. And he
really loved it. I mean, this was what he really wanted to do.
And I said, OK, you are no longer a computer geologist. Tell us what you
need to set up this area. And his career just exploded.
He brought value. He solved problems. He was so good at what he did, we
hired another one, and he was equally as good. And we were-- just one of the
things that got us technical respect was the work in sandstone petrology, of
all things, because we were in a partnership with Shell and the Dutch North
Sea. I mean, can you imagine the technology of Shell at the time? And they were
having trouble in this production stuff.
And we turned to-- actually, I asked Shell for samples, and they said, oh,
and what would you be doing with them? So that's what we were thought of. Is
this going to be a paperweight on your boss's desk, or what? And I said, no, we
don't have to explain. We have the right to have samples. So we turned them
over to these two guys, and they took those things right apart right down to
the molecules. And then we sent them over to a technical meeting at The Hague.
And Shell hadn't done their homework completely, and they had. And they
blindsided them with the solution to their problem. And as Old Glory be, this
was like the 49ers beating the Patriots, you know, at least for one quarter.
And that's the great joy of having people doing what they truly love. And one
of my-- one of the ways that I dealt with people was I would say, I want all of
you to believe that you can leave at any time-- that there's nothing here
holding you back. We're not going to hide you.
I want you to be-- for us, if you're out giving papers, it solves my problem
with technical respect. You know, we just didn't have you give papers. Publish
as long as it's not proprietary, and not much we had was proprietary. So we did
a lot of that, and so they always had the feeling that they had choices. And
that, to me, was just essential that everyone has a feeling that they had
VERN STEFANIC: And that was such an interesting example. I'm curious. How
did your superiors respond to you remaking the career of someone they hired to
do something? Because sometimes what I hear-- and the reason, I'll tell you.
The root of that-- what I hear sometimes from some of our members-- is that
management doesn't always appreciate that kind of a creative approach to career
development. Did you get any pushback when you tried something like that?
FRANK WANTLAND: Absolutely not. Along the way, I was making my boss look
good and his boss look good, and I was solving the guys-- the top guy who said,
I want technical respect. As long as we were doing that, they didn't care what
I did. I mean, I had a lot of latitude. I'll put it that way. I had a latitude.
Sometimes, they wondered.
Sometimes they would say, this isn't a geological research group. This is a
zoo. I mean, because people were in the halls, and they were talking, and there
was always action going on. And they would call us unbusiness-like, but they
never argued with the results. They never argued with results. So in a way,
yes, if this had been something that had been done widely, I probably had been
retired long ago and on a yacht in the Mediterranean, but this is the only way
I knew how to do it. And there's a principle that, if you put high skills with
high challenge, what you get is a concept called flow.
Flow is when high challenge meets high skill, and you just drift. You just
feel strong. It's like being in the zone. It's like being in the zone as an
athlete. It's the same thing with the scientists.
My father told me, one time, he was on a team that was developing insulin
for production. This is back in the '20s before they knew what insulin could
do, but they couldn't produce it in large quantities. And that was his team's
job-- was to put it. And he said, Frank, I sat there in 1923-- or 1924,
something like that-- and the first crystals of this insulin, that we had
manufactured by this process, started rolling off. And he said, and I sat
there, and I just rolled them and rolled them under the microscope.
And he said, someone tapped me on the shoulder. He said, you know you've
been sitting there for three hours? He had no idea how long he'd been there.
It's just time stops. You know, that was the flow of it for him. That's what
you wish for everybody is to have that pursuit of flow.
VERN STEFANIC: This sense of flow you're talking about-- and actually, the
need to have people feel value or to be able to do the things that they really
have passion to do, I love that. And I think most of our members would probably
identify. Right now, if they're listening, they're feeling very, very close to
what you're talking about. I think this is really resonating. My question is
what would you tell the person who-- the very basic thing that you talk about
is knowing what your core values are--
FRANK WANTLAND: Yeah.
VERN STEFANIC: --and knowing who you are. What if a person just doesn't have
that, because all they've done all through school has been on the technical end
or in some area that did not emphasize a real self--
FRANK WANTLAND: Discovery kind of--
VERN STEFANIC: So yeah, self discovery. So some people get to be
professionals without ever really having done something like that. For that
kind of person, what kind of advice would you give? What do you do?
FRANK WANTLAND: Well, let me piggyback on that in a minute.
VERN STEFANIC: OK.
FRANK WANTLAND: We have 40 people a week that come to this program on job
transition. And people come and go, but we have 40 or 50. And so we have new
people every week. They're mostly mid-career people who've been laid off by
economic change. And the thing we hear over and over again is why didn't they
teach us this back then? Why is it I'm only now learning that it's important
for me to clarify my values, and my values drive some of my decision making and
You know, a goal that isn't rooted in your core values is somebody else's
goal. It's not yours, and it doesn't generate the kind of commitments that you
want. So that's a whole other conversation about creating goals that are
meaningful to you.
VERN STEFANIC: It's kind of a message for the management of today's
oil-and-gas industry. With all the merging, and constriction, and the rapid
acquisitions, and everything that's going on, at some point, the effective
companies are going to be the ones that actually provide this kind of
environment for their people.
FRANK WANTLAND: I think so.
VERN STEFANIC: So great, yeah.
FRANK WANTLAND: I'm going to give you another quick example. I was doing
some culting within a company, and that was-- and I was visiting with people. I
had six hours. They gave me six hours, with every individual, to experiment
with this process. And the company had the integrity community-- all these core
values labeled all over the place, you know. And I would talk about it. And I said,
how do your values then mesh with the values of the company? I mean, do you
share these values?
And they say, well, yeah. Certainly, integrity and things, I share that.
But, you know, that's not really the core value here. And I said, oh really?
What is? He says, stock price. The core value is stock price. Well, there's
nothing wrong with that. We're talking about adding value, so say it, you know.
Say it. Say what you're here to do is to increase stock price. Let's just be
upfront about that.
I think there's some sort of a PR kind of notion that goes with all these
corporate values, you know, that people don't pay attention to what people say.
They watch what people do, so the value is reflected in your actions more than
your words. You have to be committed to this, because it takes some time. It
takes some time. It isn't where you go through and check some boxes. And like,
there's a book you can get, and you check the boxes, and it tells you all about
yourself, you know. I really don't think that's true.
I mean, it tells you how you compare with a group of similar people in their
database. It doesn't tell you about you. You only know you, but you have
biases. So it's really important to talk to someone else and say, these are
my-- this is what I think are my core values. Does that ring true to you? Have
you seen me? I mean, let me tell you about that. It's a kind of a pairing up
through here, and it doesn't have to all be done at once. But it also goes with
the-- who do you trust? And if you start talking to one another, you'll find
people that you trust.
And trust is a-- without trust, there's no innovation, because innovation
requires risk. And people don't take risks if there's no trust. So, you know,
it's all of a kind. So I would tell them to-- there are a couple of books I
would highly recommend that they read. One is called The Power of Uniqueness.
That is just a powerful, powerful book, because what I was always doing was
searching for what is unique about this person. What sets this person-- this
isn't just a petrophysicist.
This is a petrophysicist who has these special qualities, and that makes him
unique among petrophysicists and makes him uniquely valuable if he gets the
right fit. What we did with that young geologist that we started with-- I have
a word, that I use, called re-perceive. Re-perceive is to look at again but in
a different way. So we re-perceived him. We perceived him as a classic
photographer rather than as a-- and then we shifted his whole career track, his
whole career thinking, to support that rather than the computer thing that he
was sort of-- he was on sort of a Brownian movement kind of thing in this
As a matter of fact, re-perception, if anyone out there is with Royal Dutch,
where I got that word was from a guy named Pierre Wack, who was an economist
with Royal Dutch Shell in the '40s and '50s. And he was the one that said our
linear planning model is going to lead us into some real difficulty. And he was
the first one in the oil industry, I think, that asked what if? What if? He
wrote a paper called Re-perceiving the Future. And that's what he did. And so I
said, wow, that's a powerful thing. How can I take that down and talk about
people-- re-perceiving people? And that's what we do continuously. That's what
we do with these people that come into the transition group. We try to help
them re-perceive themselves in light of their true skills and current reality.
VERN STEFANIC: OK. Is it often, that you find, that people are surprised by
what they discover about themselves?
FRANK WANTLAND: Absolutely.
VERN STEFANIC: Yeah? Statistics would indicate the industry is changing a
little bit-- maybe not as fast as some people would like, but it's becoming
more diverse. Women are becoming a more important part of the industry. People
from around the world are coming into the defining what the industry is, as
opposed to just the US centric type profession now. And statistics and
anecdotal evidence would indicate that the profession is kind of-- it's being
influenced by that.
FRANK WANTLAND: Sure.
VERN STEFANIC: The very things that you've been looking for are starting to
happen, I think.
FRANK WANTLAND: Yeah. Well, and then there's the generational thing.
VERN STEFANIC: And then, yes.
FRANK WANTLAND: There's a generational thing. I take people one at a time. I
avoid desperately-- avoid categorization by being a boomer, or, you know--
because I'm attributing things to them that might not be them. I've got a
grandson, out in Oregon, who has traditionalist values, and he's a millennial,
you know. It is nonsense to talk to him about being entitled and all of that
stuff they say. I think that's just because you've got to take people as they
are, one at a time, and discover them.
I was interviewing a woman, tectonophysicist, for a position, and I asked
her what she wanted. And she said, Dr. Wantland. I want to leave a body of good
work. And I thought about that, and I said, I've never heard that before. I've
heard people say I want your job, or I want to be president, or all kinds of
things. But this was so well thought out. I want to leave a body of good work.
So what we did-- we entered into sort of a pact that, if she would do
everything we demanded of her-- you know, add value-- I would make sure, one,
that she got exposure That she could join professional societies-- that she
could give papers, so that she could become recognized outside the company. I
would not push her into management, because she didn't want to be pushed in
that direction. I'd like for you to be a team leader, maybe among the
structural combines and things like that. She says, sure, but I don't want to
leave the science. I don't want to leave the science.
Well, she finally did leave us. I mean, after I left a couple of years
later, she left. And I ran into her in the Chicago airport, and she was on her
way up to New Jersey to accept a position as an endowed chair at Rutgers. And I
said, she has done what she started out to do. She is leaving a body of good
work, and I thought, wow. And so my role in that was just to hear what she
wanted and launch it. That was my whole role-- you know, keep her from falling
into any bad traps and things like that.
VERN STEFANIC: Which is great. And I think that's probably a good place to
stop this conversation. I think we have so much more to talk about in terms of
career, and career development, and navigating the waters. And maybe the next
time we get together, let's talk a little bit about from the worker's
perspective, really nuts and bolts on how to-- what they need to do. What the
workers need to do to get going. But for today, thank you. Thank you--
FRANK WANTLAND: You're welcome.
VERN STEFANIC: --Frank, for being with us. We've been talking today with Dr.
Frank Wantland, career coach and consultant. And I'm sure this is a
conversation that's going to continue, so please check back again to the AAPG
website for all of the Energy Insight podcast or go to your favorite podcast
platform. We're available all over the place. Energy Insights is a production
of the American Association of Petroleum Geologists. And today, thanks for